In an ideal world the gossip of the idle would be of no consequence. But I have seen the consequences in the real world and they can be very grave indeed.
– Cormac McCarthy, All The Pretty Horses
I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.
– Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond
Afternoons, just past lunch when her 5 yr olds slowed slightly from digestion-inspired fatigue, were when Ms. Newsome turned to the trusted circle rug. Her band of little humans would gather round sitting “Indian style” and awaiting the days letter. Today’s letter was K.
From the large foam border running the north wall of her classroom she dislodged the foam letter K. It was a dimpled purple with proud battle scars where students had bent or bitten or tugged its sans serif ends over the past few years. It may have been her best investment thus far as a teacher. Every one quieted quickly in hopes they might get to hold the mystical letter or be the first to offer up a word whose beginning it graced.
Ms. Newsome held it with two hands above her head. “Class, today’s letter is the letter ____?”
“K!” they shouted in surprising unison as they filled in the space she’d left hanging in the air.
“That’s right. The letter K. Can anyone tell me a word that starts with K?”
“Kite!” little William Sheffeld blurted out.
“Remember to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.” Ms. Newsome walked the tightrope between encouragement and discipline like a big top performer.
“Katie, would you like to give us a K word?”
“Cut.” She spoke so softly the class was still waiting for her answer.
“Would you please say that louder so all your classmates can hear, Katie?”
“Cut.” If anything, the second attempt was actually softer but her classmates had quieted, a haphazarded show of support.
“That’s very close. It has the right ‘kuh’ sound but cut is spelled with a C.”
Katie had curled up inside herself like a potato bug.
“Anyone else have a K word? Yes, Douglas.”
“Korea. North Korea.”
Oh, how they never ceased amazing her. She was proud to be their teacher. Before she could affirm his answer, Douglas began to speak more.
“Do they have first-strike capabilities yet?”
“Douglas, I don’t think– ”
“What’s a ‘first strike’?”
Before Ms. Newsome could identify from whom that question originated, know-it-all Samuel Klein was answering:
“That means they can launch warheads able to fly over the whole ocean and hit American cities.” With perfect timing, tomboy Lisa Sands said: “KAHHBOOMMM!” She smacked her cupped palms together to great effect. Katie began to whimper.
“Now class, I need you to focus.”
“Kashmir begins with a K!” Was that shy Francis?
“Does Caliphate start with a K?”
“Douglas where did you learn– ”
“Khomeini starts with a K!”
“So does Kykes!”
“CLASS!” Ms. Newsome screamed.
Their wide-eyed stares full of fear and disorientation like she’d set off a flash grenade. Silence but for Katie’s sniffles as she tried to halt her tears.
“Return to your desks. Place your heads down. And close your eyes.”
They scurried into order. Their desks in five rows. Each row with three students. They had all turned their heads to the right, away from Ms. Newsome as she switched off the lights. For the remaining 86 minutes of their school day, not a word was uttered. The only sound was the awkward squeak of the letter K being pressed back into its foam setting.
JT Conway, Payload Commander, saluted me formally just prior to severing the tether that had anchored me to the space station. It starts as a drifting away but soon I’ll be herdling through– Wait. Herdling? That’s not right. Soon I’ll be hurdling through space. Shit. That would be like slow motion leaps over a series of small meteors coming at me. I’m like an interstellar track star. But the oxygen in my suit is malfunctioning. I’m struggling for air. A darkening vignette creeps in from the edges of my vision. The next meteor is there already. I’ve misjudged it. My front foot clears it by a few centimeters. My back foot catches and I begin to cartwheel. An already meaningless down switching places with up as starlight specks blur into celestial arcs. Rate of rotation increasing. A moment before I black out I think: Now. Now I am hurtling.
I might have known better, nothing is what everybody wants, the world runs on that law. Personally, if I could, I would instigate Meat-Axe Day, and out of the goodness of my heart I would whack your head off with a couple of others. Every man should be allowed one day and a hatchet just to ease his heart.
– Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
I live with an 11 yr. old. My 11 yr. old. Our 11 yr. old. He’s too young to use most social media, but is enmeshed in video games and knows an awful lot about memes and the web courtesy of Youtube and various gamer wikis. Recently he has begun speaking with hashtags. For example, he’ll say something like: “I got these fantastic transduction grenades in Borderlands. Hashtag: grenades-are-awesome.” Or, “Mom gave me extra dessert. Hashtag: Winning!”
‘Tis a strange thing to hear hashtags used verbally, much less out of one’s own progeny. And yet it is a fascinating use of the language. Social media’s structure and technology (smart phones, texting, etc.) encourage truncated, brief forms of expression from limiting characters to reliance on abbreviations. Add search engines to the equation and communication patterns tend to morph around quickly understood exchanges that are easy to redistribute, search, categorize, etc. Very roughly, it’s kind of like a transition from:
Speaking (cave men) –> Writing/Symbols –> Printing –> Audio/Video –> Telecommunications –> Writing/Speaking at Distance (phones/texting/e-mail) –> Becoming One’s Own Communications Hub
Living through such a rapid transition in technology and communications, one actually gets to see the language usage and patterns change (Who would have predicted that teenagers would eagerly spend much of their day writing to one another?). And now our mancub and his friends are using meta-tags orally to comment on their own speech or codify their inside jokes despite never having used these communication forms in their original manifestation. They are almost like parenthetical comments inserted into the middle of their dialogue. They communicate while simultaneously augmenting that communication with various forms of amplification, affirmation, commentary, and even plain redundancy. Common chat/text acronyms like WTF and LOL have been creeping into everyday vernacular for a while now (his classmates now use YOLO as a verb to describe activities that exemplify enjoying life to the fullest), but it’s only recently that I’ve heard hashtags orally, and they work wonderfully if one wants to quickly joke about something as it’s being said…
“No, you cannot have more game time. Hashtag: parents-just-don’t-understand.”